Today, Free Speech For People, along with a bipartisan coalition of Members of Congress and congressional candidates—and joined by the Campaign for Accountability filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission seeking to abolish Super PAC spending in US elections. With this filing, we aim to reverse the 2010 federal appeals court ruling in SpeechNow.org v. FEC—a ruling which unleashed a wave of Super PACs, leading to what is now the most expensive election in US history.
We are honored to be representing Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Representative Ted Lieu (D-CA-33), and Representative Walter Jones (R-NC-3), along with 2016 congressional candidates, in this FEC complaint. We are also proud to have assembled a distinguished legal team joining us in this filing, including: Professor Laurence Tribe (Harvard Law School); Professor Albert Alschuler (Univ. of Chicago Law School, emeritus); Ambassador (ret.) Norman Eisen (former chief ethics counsel to President Barack Obama); Professor Richard Painter (Univ. of Minnesota Law School, and former chief ethics counsel to President George W. Bush); and Anne Weismann, Executive Director of the Campaign for Accountability.
The March 2010 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in SpeechNow.org v. FEC, opened the door to super PACs by holding that the federal law limiting contributions to political committees to $5,000 per person each year did not apply to a political committee that promised to make only “independent expenditures.” The FEC complaint filed today alleges that super PACs have now become vehicles for wealthy donors to evade campaign contribution limits designed to prevent corruption and the appearance of corruption. The US Supreme Court has yet to review this question.
As the complaint cites, more than forty percent of federal super PAC contributions, as of April 2016, had come from just 50 funders and their families. By late June 2016, federal super PACs had reported total receipts of more than $755 million and total expenditures of more than $405 million.
The FEC complaint names ten super PACs as respondents, including the Democratic and Republican super PACs for Senate and House candidates. It alleges that the super PACs “have knowingly accepted and continue to knowingly accept contributions that exceed the $5,000 per contributor limit, in some cases by over a hundredfold.” The $5,000 per contributor limit has remained on the books after the SpeechNow ruling. The FEC complaint seeks enforcement of this $5,000 contribution limit, thereby abolishing super PACs in US elections.
According to the FEC complaint, “[t]he availability of quid pro quo transactions through super PAC contributions creates a potential for corruption, and an appearance of corruption that is confirmed by the public. For this reason, enforcing the contribution limits…against super PACs is justified by the interest in preventing corruption and the appearance of corruption.”
For additional background materials, visit EndingSuperPACs.org.